About Us

The New Zealand Defence Force is the organisation, in partnership with the Ministry of Defence, responsible for delivering Defence.

The Defence Force provides essential support to the delivery of the Government’s national security interests.  Contingent military capabilities are held for unforeseen emergencies or to reinforce existing operations.  This could include New Zealand contributions to multinational operations or United Nations mandated missions, however, the forces are held principally to allow the Defence Force to respond to security events in which New Zealand acts alone to protect national interests.

The contribution the Defence Force makes to national security is further defined through our operational outputs, which describe what military capabilities the Government may consider employing in expeditionary combat operations, the assistance provided to the civil surveillance programme and on domestic security tasks in and around New Zealand.


Role and Responsibilities

The Defence Act (1990) establishes the New Zealand Defence Force and the primary responsibilities for the provision of defence for New Zealand and security for New Zealanders.  The Act reaffirms the historical prerogative of the Crown to raise and maintain Armed Forces.

The principal role of the Defence Force is to defend the nation’s sovereign territory and those areas for which New Zealand is responsible, providing security for New Zealanders, including against terrorism and related threats.

While our mission, simply stated, is Defending New Zealand and its National Interests, our core responsibility is to achieve success on operations, remain affordable while preparing for future challenges to our security and all the while, caring for our military members, their families and preserving the wellbeing of our civil staff.


Government's Direction to the Defence Force

The Government provides direction to the Defence Force in a number of forms. The Defence White Paper is the topmost policy direction to Defence; the latest iteration is the Defence White Paper (2010).  The Defence White Paper sets out the long-term priorities for Defence and is the paramount strategic guidance within the Defence Force.  From time-to-time the Government also produces other policy statements that provide supplementary direction to the Defence Force.

The Defence White Paper, and supplementary policy direction, describes the Government’s expectations of the Defence Force’s preparation for the conduct of military operations and other directed tasks. This direction is the primary vehicle that facilitates all other planning within the Defence Force.

The 2010 White Paper provided overarching direction with respect to New Zealand’s security interests and the role of the Defence Force:

  • The core task of the Defence Force is to conduct military operations.
  • Given our interests and obligations, operations in New Zealand’s maritime zone and the South Pacific are the starting point for choosing military capabilities.
  • New Zealand’s forces must be interoperable with those of our principal partners.

The Defence Force role and responsibilities is encompassed in the contributions the Defence Force makes to the national security interests. The Government expects that acting in a lead or supporting role, the Defence Force will contribute to the following national security interests:

  • a safe and secure New Zealand, including its border and approaches
  • a rules-based international order, which respects national sovereignty
  • a network of strong international linkages
  • a sound global economy underpinned by open trade routes.

In furthering New Zealand’s national security interests the principal tasks which the Government expects the Defence Force to be able to conduct over the next 25 years are:

  • to defend New Zealand’s sovereignty
  • to discharge our obligations as an ally of Australia
  • to contribute to and, where necessary, lead peace and security operations in the South Pacific
  • to make a credible contribution in support of peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region
  • to protect New Zealand’s wider interests by contributing to international peace and security, and the international rule of law
  • to contribute to all-of-government efforts at home and abroad in resource protection, disaster relief, and humanitarian assistance
  • to participate in all-of-government efforts to monitor the international strategic environment
  • to be prepared to respond to sudden shifts and other disjunctions in the strategic environment.

The Defence Force’s Statement of Intent sets out the strategic intentions in contributing to the Government’s security interests.


Veterans' Affairs

Veterans’ Affairs is an integrated operational unit within the Defence Force. The role of Veterans’ Affairs is to ensure that veterans are able to access the services they need to support them in their everyday lives. Veterans’ Affairs manages the Government’s relationship with veterans and their representative organisations, advises on policy relating to veterans and facilitates veterans’ access to pensions and other services.



The New Zealand Defence Force functions are mandated by the Defence Act 1990, the Veterans’ Affairs Act 1999 and related regulations.

The Defence Act 1990 is the key legislation concerning the raising and maintaining of New Zealand’s Armed Forces and the responsibilities of the Minister of Defence, the Chief of Defence Force and the Secretary of Defence. The Defence Act includes provisions that set out the broad legislative framework for the command and administration of the New Zealand Defence Force and its three Services; the Navy, the Army and the Air Force.

The Act confirms the purposes of the Armed Forces, constitutes the Defence Force, affirms that the Armed Forces are under Ministerial authority, defines the roles and relationships of senior officials, and makes provisions, generally, in respect of the establishment, control and activities of the Defence Force, and related matters1.

Under the Defence Act 1990, New Zealand’s Armed Forces are raised and maintained for:

  • the defence of New Zealand and the protection of its interests, whether in New Zealand or elsewhere
  • the contribution of forces under collective security treaties, agreements or arrangements
  • the contribution of forces to the United Nations (UN) or other organisations or states for operations in accordance with the principles of the Charter of the UN.

The Defence Act 1990 also allows the Armed Forces to be made available for the performance of public services and assistance to the civil power in time of emergency, either in New Zealand or elsewhere.

The functions and duties of Veterans’ Affairs are set in statute under the Veterans’ Affairs Act 1999.  This Act enables the integration of the Crown’s functions relating to veterans’ affairs and stipulates the administration of the legislation concerning war pensions and allowances and related functions.


Managing Defence

The Governor-General as the Commander-in-Chief of New Zealand and as head of the Executive Council is constitutionally the supreme authority in defence matters in New Zealand.  The Governor-General exercises powers only on the advice of the Minister of Defence and other Ministers of the Crown.

The New Zealand Defence Force is an organisation within the Government headed by a Cabinet Minister.  The Minister of Defence exercises control of the Defence Force through the Chief of Defence Force (CDF).

The command structure of the Defence Force is a single chain emanating from the Crown, through the CDF to individual units and Service personnel.

The Chief of Defence Force is the professional head of the Armed Forces as a whole and the Government’s principal military adviser.  CDF is solely responsible for the delivery of military capability, including the direction of military operations; and, through the Chiefs of Service (Navy, Army and Air Force), is responsible, amongst other things, for ensuring the fighting effectiveness, efficiency and morale of the Defence Force.
In addition to his strategic command role, CDF is the Chief Executive of the Defence Force and solely accountable to the Government and people of New Zealand for the effective and efficient management of the Defence Force.

The Headquarters, New Zealand Defence Force, supports the CDF in his role as the strategic commander of New Zealand’s military operations worldwide and the Government’s principal military adviser. In this role the CDF draws on the operationally focused advice provided by the Chiefs of Service, the Commander Joint Forces New Zealand and senior members of the civil staff.

The headquarters concentrates on engaging with other government departments on national security issues.  In the international sphere the headquarters focuses, in general, on the fundamental policy questions, bilateral relations with security partners and other nations, liaison with international organisations and the strategic aspects of operations involving the Defence Force.

The Headquarters Joint Forces New Zealand plans and executes joint or potentially joint operations in support of the Government’s direction to the Defence Force.  For domestic crisis this headquarters is responsible for the Defence Force contributions to the civil power.


Delivering Military Capability

The Defence Force output framework establishes three Defence related outcomes to the Government, which set the intended results for Defence Force activities for the New Zealand community.

Outcome 1:  New Zealand’s national interest are secured

Outcome 2:  International order is supported

Outcome 3: Veterans’ service is honoured.

The Defence Force delivers these outcomes to the Government by producing seven main outputs within five categories.  They are:

Prepared – Navy, Army and Air Force capabilities prepared for joint operations so they can be deployed, sustained, recovered and regenerated at the scales of effort required to meet the Government’s strategic objectives

Protect – Operations to protect New Zealand and New Zealanders

  • Resource and Border Protection Operations
  • Defence International Engagement
  • Assistance to the Civil Power and Provision of a Public Service in Emergency Situations
  • Military Assistance to Civil Authorities in Non-Emergency Situations
  • Defence Support to the Community.

Project – Operations contributing to New Zealand’s security, stability and interests

  • Military Operations in Support of a Rule-Based International Order
  • Military Operations that Contribute to Regional Security.

Inform – Advice to the Government

  • Policy Advice
  • Situational Awareness
  • Supporting Ministers.

Veterans’ Affairs – Supporting our Veterans

  • Policy and other Advice for Veterans
  • Development and Maintenance of Services’ Cemeteries
  • Support for Veterans and their Families.

Readiness for contingent military operations is the most significant output the Defence Force delivers to the Government in return for the resources provided to the Defence Force.

Readiness is the term used to describe the way the Defence Force holds military capabilities ready to respond to emerging operations.  It describes the time taken for designated units and formations to be ready to deploy on military operations, appropriately manned, trained, equipped and supported to meet the defined conditions and standards for the designated operation.

However, maintaining perfect readiness for all contingencies is not realistic.  Having sufficient, well trained and equipped personnel in place all of the time to respond to any given security event is not achievable or even desirable.  The cost of keeping forces ‘ready’  for contingencies has to be balanced against the likelihood of such events  occurring, the warning time and preparation time available to respond.

Therefore, the Government holds a small number of military forces at high readiness, providing it with the ability to deploy very capable forces quickly when needed and allowing the Defence Force to prepare a greater scale and range of military capabilities, if required.  The Defence Force undertakes to maintain military capabilities and assigned force elements at the directed readiness levels and preserve the capacity to reconfigure forces to respond to contingencies within specific response times.  Some forces are held at a short notice to respond to a crisis whilst others are directed to a longer notice to prepare for operations.

Warfighting remains at the core of the Defence Force’s preparation, training and doctrine.  Being ready to intervene and prevent and resolve conflict is an essential part of the day-to-day business of the Armed Forces when not actually employed on operations.  While success in current operations is the primary objective, the Defence Force must retain the capacity to undertake future tasks and respond to contingencies.

Sustaining a contingent military capability involves the maintenance of a conventional warfighting capability comprising command and control and intelligence capabilities together with naval combat and support units, land force combat capabilities and logistic support groups, specialised and enabling air capabilities and the means of projecting and sustaining deployed forces.

The Navy, Army and the Air Force are the primary components of the New Zealand Defence Force. The single Service Chiefs have primary responsibility for the management of activities that ensure that their own Force Elements are trained, equipped and prepared for operational employment, including the engagement of joint enablers for some functions.  The personnel component of these capabilities comprises full-time and part-time uniformed personnel including the specialists needed to support deployed operations and others that are available to individually augment operational forces. The Commander Joint Forces delivers integrated joint force capabilities through additional training activities and pre-deployment validation and assessment.

These activities prepare soldiers, sailors, and airmen and airwomen, leaders and units to operate and succeed in an uncertain operational environment where the battlespace can deteriorate without warning.  While there is some commonality in the way each Service generates operational capability, each is optimised to meet specific environmental imperatives. 

Navy capability generation is driven largely by the need to maintain and deliver ships and their complement at readiness.  The fleet training programme differs from the activities of the other Services in that maritime deployments cover a range of concurrent tasks including maritime exercises, defence diplomacy, potential operations and some training.  The Army operates an annual training plan with units and formations moving through progressive stages of preparation and contingency before being ready for employment. Air Force processes are driven by the need to train and maintain aircrews at the directed state of readiness and provide air capabilities sufficient to concurrently sustain domestic outputs and deployed operations.

Reserve Forces contribute to follow-on forces and are able to augment smaller operational missions. They also provide additional capacity when regular forces are deployed on operations.  In particular, the Reserve Force provides specialists in a wide range of roles where it is not practical or cost-effective to maintain the capability in the Regular Force on a continuous basis.



In addition to the regular performance reports to the Government, the Defence Force provides an audited Annual Report to Parliament on its non-financial and financial performance. Non-financial performance is reported against the targets and measures set out in the outputs and our financial reports accord with the Public Finance Act 1989.

1 The Defence Amendment Bill will amend the Defence Act 1990 to implement the Government's policy as set out in the Defence White paper 2010.

This page was last reviewed on 15 February 2015, and is current.